What is a Lutheran?
How important is
the word, Lutheran, in our congregation’s name?
The name of our congregation is Grace Lutheran Church?
Perhaps we could say our name as follows; Grace LUTHERAN
Church, and we could really underscore the word, Lutheran.
Or, maybe we could be Grace Lutheran CHURCH and so we would
lighten the word Lutheran and push the word, church.
Or maybe we could be known as GRACE Church, leave out the
word, Lutheran, and just emphasize God’s grace.
Or maybe we could call us Grace Community Church and imply
that we have no connection to the Lutheran church but that we are a
generic congregation that serves our geographic community of Des
Moines, Federal Way and Kent. Or
maybe we could call ourselves, the Faith Center and emphasize that
this is a center when faith is nurtured and grown.
Or like many Four Square Gospel churches and Baptist churches
and more recently some Lutheran churches, we could cover up our
denomination loyalties, give us a more neutral name, but secretly
push our denomination’s doctrines. So what name shall we call this
I have another
question for you. Why do you belong to a Lutheran congregation? Why aren’t
you a member of a Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational, Catholic,
Independent, or Pentecostal church? Why are you a member of a
Lutheran Church? Perhaps
it is because you were born one.
Years ago, your mother or father, or grandmother or
grandfather belonged to a Lutheran congregation and the concept of
Lutheran is just part of your family heritage.
You have been that way for generations.
Or, perhaps you are a Lutheran because you married one.
Your spouse was a member of a Lutheran church, and
eventually, you were dragged to a new membership class or perhaps
you came voluntarily and happily.
You don’t have childhood roots in the Lutheran church but
you married a Lutheran and so you are here today.
Or, perhaps some of you belong to a Lutheran church because
it was in the neighborhood. You
wanted to be a member of a neighborhood congregation; you wanted the
congregation to be part of your traffic pattern. The location is
convenient and so you are here. Or, perhaps you went church shopping
and this particular congregation is the one for you. You spent a
good deal of time looking carefully at other congregations, and the
pastors, programs, choirs, and worship services met your spiritual
needs. The congregation
and its ministries fit right, and like a pair of shoes or article of
clothing, it had to fit right and this congregation fits you and
your family. So people
join a Lutheran congregation for numerous and varied reasons.
So I have another
question to ask you. What
is a Lutheran? Is a
Lutheran someone who belongs to a Lutheran church?
That is not true. We
have all kinds of people, who in their beliefs and traditions are
Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Fundamentalists,
etc. You can belong to this congregation and believe like the
denomination of your childhood. We have many different denominations
represented in our parish.
Is a Lutheran a
person or congregation that has pictures of Martin Luther in the
wallet or on the walls? Is
there one picture of Martin Luther in this building?
No. Does someone
have a picture of Martin Luther in his or her home or wallet?
Do any of you have a picture of Martin Luther at home or in
your wallet? No, and
the same was true of the last service, except for two people, both
retired Lutheran pastors. So Lutherans are not people who carry
pictures of Martin Luther around or display them in prominent places
in their church or homes.
What is a Lutheran?
Lutherans are people who think a certain way about God and
Christ. Lutherans are people who are united by certain beliefs and
doctrines that are very important to them.
I just now saw some
of you yawn in indifference. Doctrines are boring. Doctrines are
dull. You think to yourself, “Tune out this sermon and sleep with
my eyes wide open.” Many of you are not concerned so much about
doctrines as having inner spirituality, doing social action for the
poor, being part of a religious community, or loving God and loving
one’s neighbor. Denominational doctrines are not that important as
are these other more critical issues. Some of you may say, “As
long as a person lives a moral life, doctrines aren’t that
Doctrines are the
back bone that give us strength.
Would you all imagine a jelly fish?
A jelly fish has no back bone. The jelly fish just floats
along in the water; it easily breaks apart when you hit the jelly
fish with a stick. We
see jelly fish all the time in Puget Sound, and they seem just to be
a living blob of jelly…with no backbone.
And so it is with Christians who don’t have a backbone;
they end up being blobs of spirituality with no backbone, just
floating along in the waters of life.
Imagine a human
body without a backbone. Without
a backbone, there would be just a pile of skin, veins, organs and
body parts on the floor. You
need backbone for all the body parts to attach to. … Imagine a car
without a chassis. Doors,
windows, engine parts would all be on the ground.
You need a chassis for all the parts of the car to be
attached to. Without a
chassis, a car is very weak. …
Imagine a house without a frame.
You need a strong frame to attach all the windows, doors, and
panels to. You can’t
build a house without a frame.
Imagine our new
church building without those massive, five steel beams. As you
leave church today, notice the five steel beams that are the muscle
of our new church building. This
new church building will get its building-strength from these five
giant steel beams. The
new church would fall down without those five steel girders. You
can’t build anything substantial without having a strong frame.
We all know that.
Reformation Sunday, and the leaders of the Reformation church were
concerned about strong doctrines as being the backbone, the chassis,
the framework of the church. There
was passion inside of them for Biblical doctrines, for the truth of
the Christian faith. They
asked the questions, “What are the essential truths of the Bible,
the foundational doctrines that provide for the backbone of our
Christian faith?” With
Titus, the Reformers would pray, “Give us instruction and sound
Timothy, they agreed to be “nourished on the words of strong
worshipped God with their minds.
That is, they worshipped God with their hands, doing the
loving work of God in the world. They worshipped God with their feelings, finding God in the
beauty of music, motion, and art.
They worshipped God with their feet, walking in the paths of
love and righteousness. But
they also worshipped God with their minds.
The Bible says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all
your heart, soul and mind,” and the basic list includes loving God
with your mind. The mind is the controlling center of the body, and
the Apostle Paul calls for the renewal of our minds.
To worship God with your mind is thinking about the
fundamental doctrines and truths of the Bible.
I liked the story
by a theologian who talked about Moslems going into mosques to
worship God. What do
Moslems do before they enter the mosque?
They take off their shoes, as a symbol of reverence.
This theologian suggested when Christians approach the doors
to their churches, they leave their minds at the door. They take off
their brains and leave them at the entrance. They can go into their congregations and worship God with
their hands, their arms, their voices, and their spirits; but they
have left their minds at the entrance.
They don’t praise God with their thinking.
wanted to worship God also with their minds.
They didn’t want to be spiritual jellyfish.
So what are the
essential doctrines of the Lutheran church?
That is the important issue. Using the visual image of the
five, exposed, giant, muscular beams of our new church that give
essential strength to the new building, I will briefly talk about
the five doctrines that give power and strength of our Christian
faith, as expressed by the word, Lutheran.
The first steel
beam is the Bible, the Word alone.
Lutherans believe in the Word alone.
A Latin phrase is, “sola Scriptura,” alone the Word.
Lutherans are a Bible centered people because in the Bible,
we learn the truth about God, Christ, grace and faith.
… We center ourselves in the Bible, and our church is
centered in the Bible. Examine the placement of our congregation’s
“Big Bible,” here on the altar, front and center.
When you enter the sanctuary from the main aisle doors, the
Bible is positioned right in the middle of the altar.
The Bible is the center, the focal point, of this church.
Now, if you attended the Mormon Tabernacle up in Bellevue,
and walked into their key worship room (as I have when it was
momentarily opened to the public), what is on the center of their
altar in their primary worship room?
Yes, you guessed it, the book of Mormon. The center of their
church is not the Bible but the book of Mormon.
Or in some churches, sitting on the center of their altar is
a book of liturgy such as the Lutheran liturgy or the Book of Common
Prayer for the Anglicans. By
the location of the Bible on the center of our Communion Table, you
realize that this is a Bible centered church.
From the Bible, we learn the gracious mind and morals of God.
… This is not a Word, “plus” church.
The emphasis is not the Bible plus the Norwegian heritage of
lutefisk and lefsa, Ole and Lena jokes, and the basic morality of
“don’t dance, don’t’ drink, don’t play cards, don’t go
to movies.” Our
emphasis is not on the centrality of the word plus our national
heritage such as Norwegian or German or Swedish or Danish. Nor is it
the Word “plus” my particular interpretation of the Bible.
Here in this congregation, we discover that there are many
interpretations of the Bible and these various interpretations are
part of our congregational life together. We live together happily
but not always harmoniously with many interpretations of the Bible
within our congregation. Look
what is at the center of our worship life, here on the center of the
altar? The Bible, not our interpretations of the Bible.
The second steel
beam of our congregation is Christ alone, “sola Christos.”
Christ alone. Jesus
is the Word, and the Word is Jesus.
The person of Jesus reveals the heart and mind of God.
Christ was the heart and mind of God in the flesh on earth;
Jesus is the heart and mind of the Holy Spirit today.
The Holy Spirit is nothing less than the Spirit of Christ
with us at this moment. Jesus Christ is part of the Trinity, and we
believe in a Trinitarian God: God
the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
… But within the Trinity, Lutherans put more emphasis on
the Son, on Jesus Christ. The
Seventh Day Adventists put more emphasis on the Father; the
Pentecostals put more emphasis on the Spirit; and Lutherans put more
emphasis on the Son. Know
the Son, and you know the Father. And the purpose of the Holy Spirit
is to point to Christ. We are a Christo-centric church, a Christ
centered church. …
Look for example, at the carved totem sculpture near the
altar. The face of
Christ is pronounced for all to clearly see, with a bright light
shining on the face of Christ.
Hidden over here to the left is the dove, representing the
Holy Spirit, and the wings of the dove become flames of fire that
point up to Christ. That
is what the Holy Spirit does; point us to Jesus Christ. You will notice there are five crosses carved into the body
of Christ, symbolizing the five wounds.
Christ is wounded but clearly resurrected by the powers of
God in this carving. Whereas
in Roman Catholic churches, you often see a crucifix of the dead
body of Christ, emphasizing the sacrificial death of Christ, our
carving is of a resurrected Christ.
In almost all Lutheran churches, the cross is empty of the
body, proclaiming that Christ is not dead on the cross but living
today in our hearts. … In my adult membership class, I teach that
often we need things down to our size to understand them. For example, you don’t give a real, 18 wheel truck to a
child, but you give them a toy 18 wheeler, so they can understand a
real truck. Also, God is far too big for us to understand, so God
came down to our size; God came down to earth as a human being,
fully in the flesh of Jesus; so we could understand the gracious
mind and loving morals of God.
Look at Jesus and you will be looking at God.
Listen to Jesus and you will be listening to God. … This
congregation is Lutheran; that is, we are a Christ-centered
believe in grace alone. Grace alone. We are the “grace” people
and we are pleased that our congregation is named, Grace Lutheran
Church. Through the
life, death and resurrection of Christ, we know that our God is
gracious. And what does
grace mean? What does
the word, grace, mean to us? Gift.
What a grand word, gift.
All the letters of the Apostle Paul begin and end with grace: “grace to you and peace from God.” All the sermons of this congregation begin with that word of
grace, grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ. We
know God’s word from Colossians; that we would come to know grace
at it really is. Grace
means gift. The love of God is a gift to us.
We can’t earn God’s love by our good religious behavior.
We can’t deserve it making ourselves better.
Like gifts at Christmas time and birthdays, they are just
gifts, with no strings attached.
… We are not an “if” denomination.
God will love you more if you obey God; God will love you
more if you have the right doctrines about Jesus Christ.
God will love you more if you obey the Ten Commandments and
moral laws of the universe. God
will love you more if you are good; if you are dunked in water; if
you curb your sin. If, if, if, if, if. There are always some
conditions that if I fulfill them, God will love me more.
But in our Lutheran doctrine, we say that God loves sinful
people. That is the
only kind of people there are: sinful people, and God and Jesus love
sinners. God’s love
and forgiveness is given to us, while we were yet sinners. … Some
of you realize that the names of our children symbolize this
essential truth. That
is, the name of our daughter Anne comes from the Hebrew name,
Hannah, which means grace. Joel
comes from the Hebrew word, Jo-el, which means, the Lord our God.
The name Nathan comes from the Hebrew word, Na-than-el which
means gift. You add
these names all together and the names say:
“Gracious is the Lord our God’s gift.” That is very
Lutheran. … Look at our altar and the words carved on our altar.
In the very center of our altar carving is the word, grace,
and it is carved larger than the other letters. The word, grace, is
carved and is located right under the Bible that reveals the grace
of God. … So where
would you find out that the Lord God loves us graciously, that the
forgiveness of God is given to us as a gift?
Would you find this out by looking at the infinite expanse of
the ocean? No. Would
you find this out by looking at the infinite expanse of the stars at
night? No. Would you find this out on the rolling hills of a green
golf course? No. It is
in the Word, the Bible, the person of Jesus, that you find out that
our God is gracious. People also love the hymn, “Amazing Grace”
because this hymn captures the essence of our faith.
The fourth beam is
faith alone. What is our response to God’s gracious love that is so
freely given to us? What
does God want from us? God
wants us to believe, to trust in Christ.
More than 300 times in the New Testament, we are called to
believe in Christ; only four times, are we asked to be “born
again.” The word,
believe, occurs all the time and the phrase, “born again,” only
four times. In other
words, to be “born again” is to believe or trust in Christ.
Not once does the New Testament ask us to believe in God; not
once does the New Testament want us to believe in the Holy Spirit;
but 300 times we are called to believe in Jesus Christ, to put our
trust in Christ. 98% of
Americans believe in God, but the Bible doesn’t encourage us to
believe in the existence of God, but to put our trust in Jesus
Christ. Nor does the New Testament encourage you to make a decision
for Jesus Christ. If
you can find one place in the Bible that we Christians are called to
make a decision for Jesus Christ, I will give you five dollars, no
fifty dollars, no five hundred dollars, no one thousand dollars.
I am safe. Not once does the New Testament call you to make a
decision for Jesus Christ but repeatedly asks for you and me to put
our trust in Christ. …
What is it to believe in Christ?
Belief in Christ is an inner trust of the heart.
It is a heart ruled by trust. Such as in the children’s
sermon today. When I ask a little child to stand on a tall
step-ladder and then ask the child to jump into my arms, the child
does. The child trusts
my promise that I will catch him or her.
I don’t trick them and let them splat on the floor. The
child trusts my word that I will catch him or her.
That’s just the way it is. And similarly, we can trust God
and the good promises of God that God has made to us, for eternal
life, for forgiveness, for daily strength.
… It is faith
alone, not faith plus proof. You
cannot prove the existence of a personal God or the divinity of
Christ or the reliability of the Bible or life after death.
You can’t prove any of these.
Faith is trusting the truthfulness and goodness of God,
without having proof.
The last beam is
the freedom to love as Christ loves, with the love of God living
inside us. We are not a
faith of rules and regulations that govern our daily lives.
We have only one rule and we can remember the one rule or
commandment: to love as
Christ loves. There is
not one commandment in the Old Testament that commands us to love;
there is not one of the Ten Commandments that command us to love.
The law and the commandments are inadequate because they do
not invite us to love with the love of Christ living inside of us.
There are many denominations that convert the New Testament
into laws and regulations. There
are the Old Testament regulations and then there are New Testament
regulations. The New
Testament contains the new rules for daily living such as women
cannot speak in church, divorced people cannot remarry, slavery is
acceptable, blacks and whites cannot intermarry, men cannot wear
long hair. These are
all rules find in the New Testament, and many people make the New
Testament into a rule book. We are now to follow these New Testament
rules. Rather, for us
as Lutherans, there is one rule. Maybe it is because our minds are
so small that we can remember only one commandment; but it is a
fundamental one: love
as Christ loves. When
you love as Christ loves, you will fulfill the law. … Does that
mean we throw out the Ten Commandments and convert them into ten
suggestions? No, the
Ten Commandments are as valid as the laws of gravity, but the Ten
Commandments and the other commandments are not adequate because
they do not mention the word, love. Jesus has freed us from the laws
and traditions of the Old Testament, the Norwegians, the Germans,
the Americans; and we are free to discover what it means to love as
Christ loves. So we have one commandment for daily life:
to love as Christ loves.
So we end where we
began. What is a
Lutheran? One who
belongs to a Lutheran church? No,
many people belong to the Lutheran church but who aren’t Lutheran.
Is a Lutheran someone who carries a picture of Luther?
No, there are no pictures of Luther in any of our homes or
church building. Is a Lutheran someone who has Lutheran traditions
from Norway, Germany or Denmark? No, a Lutheran is not someone who celebrates specific
national heritages. What
is a Lutheran? A
Lutheran is a Christian who worships God with his or her mind, who
believes in the essential doctrines of the Christian faith that are
like backbones in a body, like a chassis in a car, like steel
girders in a tall building. And
what are these backbone doctrines?
Bible, Christ, Grace, Faith, Love.
Five basic doctrines of the Christian faith. We are not
spiritual jelly fish but have a doctrinal backbone to make us
I am not sure about
you, but I like the name of our congregation: Grace Lutheran Church.